By Chioma Obinna
MANY married Nigerian women afflicted with cancer do not only lose their means of livelihood among others, they also lose their identities and marriages.
Stories of hundreds of women living with breast cancer who were abandoned by their husbands are making the rounds.
A ray of hope for these women came to the fore recently during the launch of the Breast Cancer Awareness Network Wall of Fame, by Care Organisation Public Enlightenment, COPE.
Among numerous cancer survivors that shared their experiences during the event, was Elder Tony Akinfisola.
While not personally a cancer survivor himself, Tony, opened up on the struggles of his wife, Dorcas, who has survived breast cancer for 11 years.
It was a tale of the battle the couple fought and overcame together and a reflection of true love.
His voice was loud and clear as he stood before the gathering, in front of the Wall of Fame, beautified with logos of organizations that have been supporting women with breast cancer.
Tony was not ashamed to share such personal issue publicly, however, he had a message to pass across.
“Many people have died from cancer. Men should not run away from their wives that have breast cancer. When you stand by your wife in such a situation, she is 90 per cent cured.
“I believed this in my heart and commited to it with everything that I had. There were rough times, but COPE inspired me.”
Contrary to common belief, cancer is not primarily a death sentence. Although potentially deadly, early detection and treatment is crucial.
For Tony, cancer is a devastating experience that requires grace of God to survive. Going down memory lane, Tony recalled it all started in 2006.
“When we went to Lagos General Hospital on the Island 11 years ago, we started from there, we went there three to six times and there was nothing they could do because breast cancer was not rampant or known too well at that time.
“It was at a time when people who had breast cancer were denied by their relatives, which was why many people died from it, but I refused to run and stayed with my wife.
“We went to a private hospital where they checked my wife and gave her attention. There was no specific treatment for cancer, until the disease started devastating my wife, it took the grace of God because she nearly lost her life, but I stood by her.”
Tony who lamented their plight said Dorcas was still on treatment and at intervals they spent over N40.000 on tests.
“She is on diet and I’m happy to spend my money to keep her alive. We have five grown up children, they are all graduates now. My wife is 60 years plus while I am over 70 years now.
Acknowledging COPE and the Lagos State government’s contributions, Tony said: “I stood my ground that my wife will not die of cancer and she will not die.”
Overcoming cancer was expensive – Clara Unegbu
Another breast cancer survivor, Mrs. Clara Unegbu, diagnosed in August 2015 told Good Health Weekly that when series of tests confirmed she had a lump in her right breast she immediately opted for surgery.
“After my menstruation in August that year, I noticed a change in the size of my breast. I didn’t know what it was because my menstrual period had just ended. When my husband came back and I showed him, the following day, we went to the doctor who told us it was a lump and that was how the battle began.
“I told the doctors I was ready and determined to overcome cancer and that if they took away both my breasts, I didn’t care, because I wanted to live.”
Clara recounted that she spent a fortune on tackling the breast cancer challenge.
“Overcoming cancer was expensive. I spent about N12 million. It is not everyone that can afford such sum. I thank God I am alive today.
“The lump was discovered at Omotayo Hospital in Lagos and I was referred to Air Force Medical Hospital in Ikeja. By September that same year, I had the surgery to remove the lumps.
“After the surgery, it was confirmed that the lumps were cancerous, so I had to go for another surgery in October which involved the total removal of my right breast.”
Clara said early detection and immediate follow up is the secret behind her survival.
“After the surgeries, I was referred to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), for continuation of the radiotherapy and chemotherapy and I did as it was programmed and by God’s grace I am a survivor.”
Regular breast checks
“When you find anything strange, take it up because, when it gets worse, nothing may be done about it. There is no point hiding. Share your ideas and opinions with people around. You might not know it all, but you can learn from others.”
The Chief Executive Officer, Care Organisation Public Enlightenment, COPE/Breast Cancer Awareness Network (BCAN), Mrs. Ebunola Anozie said one out of every 12 women in Nigeria would have breast cancer.
Anozie said the rise of cancer worldwide has become a major obstacle to human development and well being which sadly is causing an increase in the mortality rate in Nigeria.
She said COPE is assertive and believe that being proactive would be a lot cheaper than being reactive.
“Most importantly, knowledge is power hence, the need for early diagnosis and treatment leading to an increased survival rate cannot be overemphasised.
She said in the fight against cancer, through joint collaboration with organizations such as Variant, Advisory, Access Bank, Citi Bank, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Union Bank, LASSA and Skye Bank, it would definitely take the organization a step closer to in reducing breast cancer mortality.
“The essence of the breast cancer awareness network is for women to present early in order to reduce the mortality rate of breast cancer”
Anozie said the launch of the Wall of Fame would also enable them to keep the data of women with breast cancer in Nigeria, knowing that one out of every 12 women would have breast cancer in Nigeria.
“There is need to document most of the things we do; the statistics would enable us to organise ourselves and know where to concentrate or improve on.”
Other essence of the launch include increase political will commitment for breast cancer prevention and control, reduction in late presentation, correct the notion that breast cancer is a death sentence among others,
According to the Head, Strategic Brand Management, Skye Bank, Mr. Nduneche Ezurike, the bank has a 10-year history providing succour to cancer victims and has touched lives of more than 15,000.
“We encourage our female staff to undergo free breast cancer screening just as we step up the fight against cancer and to ensure we eliminate it finally in Nigeria.”
In her own contribution, COPE Vice-Chairman, Mr. Seyi Oduntan said when a breast cancer patient, obtains treatment early, such patient stands the chance of full recovery. He blamed the needless deaths from cancer on lack of exposure, education and information on breast cancer.